“Detroit has world-class players but they played us hard in the playoffs,” Assistant General Manager Brad Treliving said. “Their third and fourth lines had a big impact on our series. We need to be a harder team moving forward.”
With that approach in mind, the Coyotes recently signed forward Brett Hextall
to an entry-level contract. Hextall, who played three seasons at the University of North Dakota, is a self-described agitator who likes nothing more than to “muck it up” when he’s on the ice.
“I’m certainly not going to be a guy who puts up a ton of points, but I will play a hard, physical, in-your-face style of hockey, and be a guy that will win one-on-one battles and make it hard on the other team’s defensemen,” Hextall said.
Hextall, 23, comes from a long line of pro hockey players:
• His father, Ron, played 13 NHL seasons with Philadelphia, Quebec and the New York Islanders, and won the Vezina and Conn Smythe trophies as a rookie in 1986-87.
• His grandfather, Bryan Jr., spent nine seasons in the NHL with the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Detroit and Minnesota.
• His great grandfather, Bryan Sr., played 11 seasons with the New York Rangers.
Hextall said he feels lucky to have grown up around NHL locker rooms and pro hockey players. He lists Flyers legend Bobby Clarke as the player whose style he most admired while growing up.
|Bobby Clarke. |
“When I was young, my dad had all these Flyers videos around the house and I used to watch them non-stop,” Hextall said. “I just grew up loving Bobby Clarke, his (toothless) smile and how he played with such a gritty style. I have a lot of respect for the way he played the game.”
Hextall said he tried following in his dad’s footsteps when he was about six years old, but he quickly discovered that goalies didn’t get to check other players and that he wanted be in the action more. So, with his dad’s blessing, he gave up the goalie pads.
The Coyotes first noticed Hextall when they were scouting another player - Zach Dalpe - when both were playing for Penticton of the British Columbia Hockey League.
“Brett just caught our eye,” Treliving said. “He’s not the biggest guy in the world but he competes extremely hard and is no joy to play against. Brett’s dad played the game like every day was his last day on Earth. That’s how Brett plays. He’s a hard-nosed, competitive guy who lays it out for every shift of every game. And he’s got a lot more skill than most people give him credit for.”
The Coyotes selected Hextall in the sixth round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft with the 159th overall pick.
In three seasons at the University of North Dakota, Hextall recorded 39 goals, 42 assists and 242 penalty minutes in 115 games. Nineteen of his goals were power-play goals. As a junior this season, Hextall appeared in 39 games and notched 13 goals and 16 assists, and helped lead the Fighting Sioux to its 19th trip to the NCAA's Frozen Four.
|Photo by Matt Clemetson/UND Athletics |
Hextall had one more year of college eligibility, but he gave it up to sign with the Coyotes on April 22.
“My gut feeling all year, and especially after our season ended, was that now was the right time for me in my development, and that I was ready to move on,” Hextall said. “But it was a hard decision to leave North Dakota. It’s a special program. The coaching staff is the best in the country.”
Hextall plans to train at North Dakota and in Philadelphia before reporting to the Coyotes’ Prospect Development Camp in July. He also plans to mix in a bear hunting trip with his brother, father and grandfather this summer.
Making the Coyotes' roster as quickly as possible is his goal, but he knows it will be challenging.
Treliving is eager to see how Hextall performs against his peers at this year's development camp and against the established NHL players at training camp in September.
“We’ll see how he progresses, but I wouldn’t bet against a kid like him,” Treliving said. “We think he’s ready to start his pro career now. He has a heart the size of a building.”